Professional qualifications: Ministers voice misgivings over reform
By Sophie Mosca | Wednesday 30 May 2012
It emerged clearly from the member state ministers’ first debate, at the 30 May Competitiveness Council, that they support the objective of modernising the existing Directive 2005/36/EC on professional qualifications, proposed by the Commission on 19 December 2011, but that they still have considerable misgivings about the key implementing arrangements for the reform.
The Presidency chose to focus the discussion on two questions: the introduction of a European professional card and the mutual evaluation exercise by member states with the aim of reducing the number of regulated professions in certain states. These two points were highlighted by the 30 January informal European Council as a way of improving cross-border mobility for employment, pointed out Ole Sohn, Danish minister for enterprises and growth, who chaired the session.
The Commission proposes to create a European professional card (EPC) that would operate on the basis of alerts via the Internal Market Information (IMI) system. This would help improve automatic recognition and the simplified recognition process within the general system. The EPC would take the form of an electronic certificate issued at the request of a professional by the member state of origin upon presentation of documents proving the person’s qualifications and right to exercise; the bulk of the procedure would therefore fall on this issuing state, which would be more involved than under the existing procedure for recognition of qualifications, which places the bulk of the process of obtaining proof on the host state, including translation costs.
However, a number of states (including the Netherlands, Croatia, Finland and Luxembourg) are concerned that this may give rise to other costs resulting from a parallel system to be put in place, without any assurance of better mobility. Lithuania even went as far as to ask for an impact study identifying the costs and benefits of the card.
With regard to the professions concerned by the card, several states mentioned problems (particularly relating to means of ensuring the authenticity of a qualification) that would result from the issue of the card in a host country where the profession in question is not regulated, and the possibility of additional costs. Internal Market Commissioner Michel Barnier assured them that “the EPC will lead to a reduction of costs compared with the present system, which is estimated at between €100 and €1,000 per request”.
The second point of the debate, mutual assessment of the 800-odd different regulated professions in the EU, brought to light a lack of clarity on the scope of this transparency exercise aimed at reducing obstacles to mobility. Here, too, there are no objections to the principle: the exercise would give a ‘snapshot’ of regulated professions to help identify possible improvements. Opinions differ on the practical arrangements, however. For the United Kingdom, this evaluation should be made as soon as possible rather than waiting, as suggested by the Commission, for Council and Parliament to work out a political agreement. Other states that are already reducing the number of regulated professions, including Spain, Italy, Portugal and Poland, suggested that pilot groups should be set up to save time. Others, however (Belgium, France and Finland), called for a more cautious approach so as to maintain, in line with the subsidiarity principle, their right to impose stricter criteria in terms of minimum qualifications for certain professions (ie security and health sectors). Still others (Germany, Austria and Poland) disputed the Commission’s proposal to increase the length of training for nurses in Germany to promote greater equivalence with the European level. France and Luxembourg also suggested that notaries should not be covered by the revised directive given the public service missions they perform.